This text was originally written by an immigrant from India. We adapted it to include views for anyone preparing to come to Canada in the next few months, or who has recently landed.
Please note that the advice is mainly for people who come to English-speaking provinces, especially when we talk about Language and Communication. As you know, both English and French are official languages, so Canada has two distinct societies, the English-speaking and the French-speaking. French Canadians, and especially the Québécois (citizens of Quebec) have a very strong sense of cultural identity. On the other hand, the English-speaking Canada cannot be put in a strongly cohesive group as there are slight differences across provinces and many cities are multicultural, but we can give general advice on how to approach life within the English-speaking Canadian society.
Your comments and feedback are welcome!
Recently landed? First and foremost, learn the culture of Canada
When you move around anywhere in Canada, observe how people treat each other. It can be the person at the immigration counter at the airport, the taxi driver who drops you at your place of stay, the guy at the ticket counter in the subway station, the teller or the manager when you open your first bank account, etc. Basically anybody and everybody you meet in life teaches you something consciously or unconsciously.
When you interact with different types of people, just observe them: notice their gestures, body language, tone of voice, volume, appearance, etc., and try to understand the local culture, general rules of communication, mutual respect and boundaries. This will help you a great deal in tailoring your communication skills to Canadian standards.
Many people arrive here and tend to have a closed attitude towards anything “foreign”. Some think that their own culture is superior; however this thinking will only lead you down the wrong path. While each person from anywhere in the world has a rich culture and heritage, that doesn’t mean he/she is the best and only one in this planet.
Learn to understand the difference between something wrong/incorrect, versus something just different from what you do, and learn to embrace that difference. Remember that just because I do something in a different way, it doesn’t make me wrong and yourself right; we are just different people, you may not want to appreciate that but at least you could internally acknowledge this difference and accept it as a natural thing. Otherwise you will isolate yourself and see every other person as biased, racist, wrong or arrogant.
Don’t stick to your own community
While staying with people from your own country/region/ethnicity might give you a feeling of “home” and emotional support, you should also go out and mingle with other groups. If you only talk to people from your community or spend time only with them, your perception of your new life and Canada in general will be completely skewed.
Here’s an example: imagine you meet a doctor in his late 40’s from your country, who has immigrated and is experiencing extreme difficulty in finding work in his field because he needs to get recertified as per Canadian standards. Being in mid-life stage already, he may not want to go through the whole degree again, and he might think Canada is treating him unfairly. However Canada and Canadian hospitals are only following rules and are not biased against this specific doctor for his ethnicity or background.
Now, you landed here as an IT professional and meet this doctor in your local community gatherings and hear his sad story. Although it is completely unrelated to your situation, profession, qualification or experience, the discussion may demotivate you because you see a fellow country person with fantastic qualifications and experience struggling to get a job. If you don’t talk to anyone else, your morale will likely go down. In that state of mind, you probably won’t think rationally and might start believing that the situation will be the same for you.
So… GO OUT AND MEET OTHER PEOPLE! Join MeetUp groups, professional associations, networking events, workshops, clubs, hobby groups… Talk to as many people as possible to hear about varied experiences and get different points of view.
Don’t feel that Canada owes you something because they invited and accepted your immigration application
Immigration is a political and economic strategy of the Canadian government. However the Canadian government does not guarantee employment for immigrants upon landing. They do help with the tools and resources such as pre-arrival services, bridging programs, integration activities, workshops, etc. The resources are widely available and intended to help immigrants as much as possible.
Getting employed is up to each person’s effort and persistence.
Let’s think in terms of your own country.
(We’ll keep the original example written from an Indian’s perspective, but if you’re not from India, take a step back and think of how people in your country would behave and react.)
Imagine you are an Indian residing and working in India, and one day an African person comes to your office and says he has done an MBA from the University of Mogadishu and passed in first rank, he has worked in the Bank of Kilimanjaro for 15 years as Chief Accountant, and wants you to give him a job as Chief Accountant in your company. What would you think?
- Do you know where the University of Mogadishu is??
- Do you know if the University is any good?
- Do you know anything about the Bank of Kilimanjaro?
- Would you give this guy a job right away?
No!!! You would not want to take that risk, you would rather consider a local Indian applicant who has studied in a university you know and worked in a company you know or which you can easily check upon using your contacts in India. It is the same story in Canada…. Canadian employers just don’t want to take a risk with an unknown person with unknown qualifications and work experience in unknown companies far away.
So what are essential things to land a job?? We have 3 pieces of advice that you can consider right now.
1) IMPROVE YOUR COMMUNICATION SKILLS
We cannot stress the importance of communication skills strongly enough. When you get a job interview, initially you are nothing but a voice on a phone claiming to have studied something and worked somewhere, and knows so many things. If this voice is not clearly understandable then the person at the other end will most probably not believe the information or be very doubtful. Many interviewers would not want to continue a conversation when they are not able to understand you.
We’re not saying every new immigrant should speak the Queen’s English with a perfect accent and perfect grammar. But every immigrant should be able to speak English clearly to articulate his/her ideas and thoughts so that anybody anywhere in the world can understand despite some accent or minor grammar errors. Many people think in their mother tongue and translate into English before they speak up. If you want to make an impression on potential employers then please polish your English skills. You may have cleared IELTS or CLB with high marks and may have studied and spoken English for many years but that still doesn’t mean you know the language well in the Canadian context.
That’s why we emphasized above that your everyday interactions matter. When you meet and talk to others…
- How’s your small talk?
- How’s your elevator pitch?
- Are you really listening to what the other person is saying?
- Are you asking clarifying questions politely when you don’t understand something?
- Is your tone of voice appropriate?
Remember that your body language and non-verbals also communicate your character.
- How’s your posture when you talk to others?
- Are you making eye contact?
- What’s your face expression telling? Are you smiling genuinely?
- Is your handshake appropriate?
Likewise, learn to write professionally and in a way that is acceptable for Canadians.
- When you send a resume to a potential employer, are you addressing the person properly?
- Are you using correct spelling & grammar?
- Is your written message clear, polite and straightforward?
- Are you including your phone number in your email signature so that it’s easy for them to call you?
Remember that any small factor or uncommon action may turn a person off. In a hyper-competitive market, a recruiter will just move on to the next candidate. Therefore, invest time in understanding what it means to have “excellent communication skills”. Here are some suggestions for this:
- Ask other immigrants who have been in the country for quite some time, to learn from their experiences and mistakes
- Talk to employment counselors or job developers at non-profit organizations that serve immigrants
- Get a Mentor who can help you understand the acceptable communication style
- Volunteer to learn about common work practices and how to communicate
2) BE AWARE OF YOUR ATTITUDE
- Keep an open mind and learn – your culture is rich, valuable and wonderful wherever you came from, but the one that received you, the Canadian culture, is neither lower nor worse than your own culture; it is just different. Always keep a learning mindset. “Coachability” is highly regarded in Canada. If someone is teaching you something, thank them even if you don’t fully agree. There is a reason why that person crossed paths with you.
- Be polite, respectful and courteous – You may not be an IT genius or heart surgeon, but somebody may like you just because of your nature and attitude and help you. Most geniuses work alone in laboratories; it’s the normal people with average intelligence and positive attitude who build a society and make it a safe and happy place to live in!!
- Life is not easy – in most cases people go through lots of hardships in their own home countries, so it’s normal that a new adopted country will pose difficulties initially. It’s like joining a new job, or school or moving into a new neighborhood. Make double the effort to integrate yourself into this new culture and community. If you face setbacks, reflect on what you’ve learned from them.
- Don’t be jealous of other people’s success – somebody may have landed 6 months after you did and gotten a job in 2 weeks, whereas you’ve been struggling for all this time. Don’t be jealous, be genuinely happy for them, congratulate them, they may be able to help you with some tips on how they achieved success. Jealousy and all other negative attitudes should be thrown in the garbage bin in the airport when you land in Canada!!
3) NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK
You’ll hear this over and over: networking is critical for success in Canada. It is just how it is. People refer people they already know and trust.
So… how and where to network?
As mentioned above, you could start within your community and your new neighbourhood by just talking to the people you meet. Then join a professional association and/or a professional immigrant network, and attend their events. Also search for interesting contacts online and invite them for coffee.
Online Networking via LinkedIn
- Complete your LinkedIn profile in the first place: include a professional photo, an engaging summary, and detailed job descriptions. Fill out all the sections you can. Get recommendations.
- When reaching out to people, do it strategically and with a personalized invitation. Don’t just contact random people. Canadians in general are cautious in accepting people they don’t know, hence it’s important to use a customized message.
- After they accept, have some dialogue over email or LinkedIn messages, then invite them for a chat over the phone or a coffee.
In the Canadian business context, it’s common to invite people for coffee to have short meetings in an informal, unstructured setting. It doesn’t mean you just go drink coffee in the literal sense. You should view these meetings as an opportunity to have a casual conversation about things that might be of interest to both parties.
Tips for your first meeting
- Craft your elevator pitch: who you are, what you do and what you’re looking for. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but make sure it’s short, clear and naturally-sounding!
- When you meet someone for coffee, remember to add value and be of help! Too many people are hoping to take rather than give. Listen attentively to what they say, and find opportunities to help or give your knowledge.
- Follow up with everyone after you meet them. Thank them for their time, and include something that you spoke about during the meeting.
We wish you good luck in all your endeavours!
In PART 2 we’ll be talking more about do’s and don’ts in your job search and the Canadian workplace. It will be posted soon! Stay tuned!